I often have opportunities to sit and talk with older folks, and it is something I have always enjoyed. To me, we do not spend enough time doing this and I’m afraid we are missing out on a lot of wisdom.
I was thankful for a day when I had time to sit and listen to an older fellow sitting beside me in a waiting room.
My new friend and I starting talking about aging and how time seems to go by so fast. I am often flabbergasted at how quickly my life has gone by and sometimes when I remember I am 52, I wonder where the other decades of my life have gone.
However, I often look at the future and think I have plenty of life left if things go well.
I enjoyed hearing this man’s take on life. He is in a good place, perfectly content in his own skin and able to look at his advancing years with optimism and humor. He has faced the deaths of close relatives, a few serious illnesses and plenty of ups and downs. As I said, he’s full of wisdom.
I asked him if he thinks he adjusted well to all the stages of his life and he had to stop and think about it. He said it was hard when he retired, as he felt his purposes in life shifted dramatically. He also commented it was hard to realize one day that his family was grown and was less dependent on him.
He said the biggest surprise of growing older was the day he realized that our nervous systems continue to change as we grow older.
This man had always been in charge and was used to being needed by his family. As his children grew older, they became more independent. He said he realized one day that his kids were getting aggravated at him because he was still telling them what to do, questioning practically every move they made and basically continuing in the role of “the man in charge.”
“It occurred to me one day that I needed to back off,” he said with a laugh. “Although I wanted to help my family and I wanted them to succeed, I had to be willing to let them learn and even fail. That was pretty tough on me.”
He stopped questioning the decisions of his children and decided to speak up only when asked.
“Have I told you how difficult that was? I was used to being needed all the time.”
This wise man also realized that it didn’t take him long to fall into a rut.
“I was so used to getting up early and heading out. It wasn’t like that anymore when I retired. For awhile, I didn’t know what the heck I needed to do.”
He said he forced himself to find places to go, found ways to interact with people and started walking every day.
“I had to have hip surgery right after I retired, and it took me a long time to feel like I wanted to exercise. I had to start slow. But eventually, I started going at a pretty good clip.”
He still walks or exercises every day and its part of a routine.
“I feel like making myself get out and move helps me stay happier and calmer.”
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises was when this man found out his nervous system was going to keep changing after he got older.
“I was talking to my nephew, who is a neurologist. I told him that I felt like I got a little more nervous about things as I grew older. He told me that my life adjustments and the fact that my nervous system was changing might cause some personality changes. I thought ‘oh boy.’ I sure didn’t want to become a grumpy old man or have a split personality,” he said with a laugh.
Self-centeredness was something he noticed. As he grew older, he realized a lot of his concerns were only about himself. He was especially interested in meals, his daily schedule and how everything affected him. Because he was now taking care of himself mostly, his main focus was, well, himself.
“It was a little like becoming a kid again. I got a little selfish. Sometimes that sort of attitude works and sometimes it doesn’t. With only me to take care of, it was hard to focus on other people.”
The best nugget of wisdom I received from this man was that I needed to talk to God every day.
“I sometimes just sit and listen,” he said. “God speaks to me, and I’ve learned a lot.”
This man was a complete stranger to me. I still don’t know his last name. He just started talking to me as we sat there in the waiting room together. I am thankful for the conversation and I’m thankful I ran into him.
As we parted ways, I asked him if he minded if I asked how old he was.
“I’m 93 years young, sir.”
A dose of wisdom. We all need some now and then.